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Review: Liane Carroll – Brilliant Corners 2019

For all the experimentation and eccentricity featured at this year’s programme of Belfast’s Brilliant Corners festival, the legendary pianist Liane Carroll was a soothing salve of classic jazz executed flawlessly. But this was anything but a stuffy recital. The woman has been a force of nature in the jazz world, winning awards for her stellar vocals and exciting compositions. I can only imagine she’s gotten as far as she has due in part to her bubbly personality, which lent a kind accessibility to the woman’s live performance. 

Over a career spanning nearly three decades, Carroll has collaborated with acts and artists spanning genres, from Paul McCartney to London Elektricity. There is no doubt that this impassioned lady’s infectious energy could lend itself to any projects she pleased. However, if this week’s intimate performance at Black Box was anything to go by, jazz is her one true love—the things that unquestionably gives her the most joy in the world. 

With the promise of playing as a trio in the second half, Liane started the set out just her and her piano. I can’t think of a better introduction to the raw power that this woman possesses than to witness her solo performance. She set right into some wonderful jazz standards, disarming the audience right out of the gate with “Almost Like Being in Love.” 

The tremendous tickling of the keys was only outdone by an absolutely sublime scatting interlude in the song. The prolific lady pulled back from the mic to tame the powerhouse vocals as her lips quivered and jutted out as she belted improvised melodies. A cool and bluesy rendition of Ray Charles’ “You Don’t Know Me” was followed up with a lively “Orange Coloured Sky” with its fast-firing lyrics and spirited piano. It was good times all around with everyone’s favourite tunes from a bygone era. 

Although playing music that has been performed by everyone under the sun, Carroll managed to make them feeling exciting and fresh with her engaging phrasing and arrangements. Unable to supress infectious grins throughout each number, it looked like Liane was uncovering buried treasure with each passing note. This unbridled joy spilled over in between songs, as the woman would chat affably with the crowd, making self-deprecating jokes. ‘My friend recently bought me a Fitbit recently,’ she recounted mischievously. ‘It says I’ve done two miles but I’ve just been sat at the piano doing strides up and down the keys.’

Liane’s good-natured disposition came through in more than just her love for song title puns. (‘This next song is about a claustrophobic ram. It’s called “Embraceable You.”’) Her heart and soul came through in her original tracks, like the tender and haunting “Seaside”, written specifically for Carroll by Joe Stilgoe. Lovelier still was “Dublin Daydream” which, Liane mused, was written with her daughter on a train down to Dublin and speaks of a longing for her lover, seeing his face in those of other passengers. She pulled off a tiny miracle in concluding the first half of the set as this song transformed into a medley including a Irish version of Gershwin’s “Summertime” and a favourite from The Sound of Music. 

As bassist Cormac O’Brien and percussionist Dominic Mullan joined Carroll on stage for the second half, the woman couldn’t stop gushing about how thrilled to be joined by such talented musicians. Although the trio obviously hadn’t really played much before, you would never have guessed it by the wonderful marriage of strolling bass lines and sizzling tight drumming.

Liane gave the guys ample reign to show their stuff, leaving space for solos from the first song, “Love for Sale.” The leading lady looked absolutely blissful as she perched on the lid of the grand piano, tapping her hand to O’Brien’s stand-up bass riffing. Mullan’s drum solos were equally enthralling, fiery and flabbergasting as the man flipped between sticks and brushes.

As the evening wore on Liane Carroll continued to go head-to-head with some of jazz’s great female vocalists and came out shining. From Etta James’ iconic “At Last” to the incomparable Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman”, Carroll delivered perfect peaks and valley in her sensual vocals. She has certainly proved her place in a long and celebrated tradition, and has had the utmost fun doing so!